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Lawrence of Clouds Hill

Exploring the heath around the retreat of a famous British soldier.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 279ft (85m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Heathland tracks, forest, field and woodland paths, 9 stiles

Landscape Open heath, woodland beside army training area, village

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL 15 Purbeck & South Dorset

Start/finish SY 825904

Dog friendliness May need lifting over some stiles due to rabbit fencing

Parking Car park on road between Bovington Camp and Clouds Hill

Public toilets None on route

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1 Facing the back of the car park, turn left (yellow marker) along the fence through the pines. After a short distance, a stone on the left marks where Lawrence was fatally injured. Stepping stones lead across marshy sections. The path becomes sandy and heads uphill by the fence. Rhododendrons screen Clouds Hill, to the left. Keep right, round the fence, then bear left to the road.

2 Turn left, then at the junction cross over and turn right through a gate. Walk across Turners Puddle Heath Nature Reserve (a Site of Special Scientific Interest). Go through a gate at the other side and walk straight up the road ahead, signed 'Briantspuddle'.

3 After ½ mile (800m), before a junction, turn left down the path between Cull Pepper Cottage and its garage. Go through the gap on to a path and bear left on a firm track across Bryants Puddle Heath. Keep straight on at a crossing of tracks, following Hardy Way signs. Go straight on through a gate into Oakers Wood. Pass Okers Wood House and stay on the drive, which bends round to meet a road.

4 Cross the road and go straight on through more woods, with a field opening on your right. At the end of the field continue straight ahead on a woodland path. After a short distance, by an old water tank, look for the Jubilee Trail waymarker and turn right, walking down through the pine trees. Follow the trail as it winds through rhododendrons, later bearing right over a streambed.

5 Cross a pair of stiles and a footbridge at the end of the woods. Bear right across the field. Cross another footbridge and bear diagonally right to a stile in a fence. Head straight on, cross a stile by a big trough and keep left round the edge of the next field.

6 Cross a stile in the corner and turn right into the lane. Go over two bridges and keep right to cross a long bridge over a ford. Pass the former post office and reach a three-way road junction (tea rooms on the right). Walk straight ahead to visit the graveyard (through a porticoed gateway) that contains Lawrence's grave. Return past the junction and turn right for Moreton church. Retrace your route to Point 6 and keep straight on. At a junction of tracks turn right and, at the end, bear left. The broad track leads past cottages into woodland and on to the heath.

7 Soon turn left up the sandy track. Where it divides turn right, up the hill. At the top of the hill cross the stile and turn left along the fence. Cross the stile at the end, go over the road and bear left back to the car park.

The grave in Moreton churchyard is a stark slab of white marble inscribed: 'To the dear memory of T E Lawrence, Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. Born 16 August 1888, died 19 May 1935'. It strips the romantic 'Lawrence of Arabia' legend to the bone, presenting to the world a scholar who died young. Yet the brilliant, enigmatic and haunted figure of Lawrence continues to fascinate, thanks in part to the epic film by David Lean.

Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in Tremadoc, North Wales. As an Oxford undergraduate he undertook a 1,100 mile (1,769km) walking tour of Palestine and Syria, collecting material for a thesis on Crusader castles. He went on to work as an archaeologist at Carchemish, Syria, and took odd jobs (such as camel driving) on wanderings throughout the Middle East and Greece. He gained a knowledge of Arab life which would prove invaluable during the First World War, when he was posted to military intelligence in Cairo. As British liaison officer to the Arab Revolt, Lawrence proved himself a leader with a driving personality and deep knowledge of strategic warfare, demonstrated in raids against the Turks. His flamboyant courage and adoption of Arabic dress made Lawrence a heroic figure, seized on by the press of the day as Akaba (Aqaba, in Jordan) was captured in 1917, and Damascus the following year.

Lawrence remained involved in Arab affairs after the war, lobbying unsuccessfully for Arab independence, and becoming increasingly frustrated. Finding fame a millstone and dissatisfied with what he described as 'the shallow grave of public duty', he joined the RAF in 1922, seeking a degree of security and regular life as Aircraftsman Ross. But he was discovered so he joined the Tank Corps at Bovington in 1923 as Private T E Shaw, and moved to Dorset, first renting and then buying the derelict house at Clouds Hill as a simple evening and weekend retreat. It is a bachelor house, surrounded by dark, high rhododendrons, with well-stocked book shelves, a gramophone, comfortable firesides and few frills. It became his 'earthly paradise'. He finished writing his account of the Arab Revolt, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926), here, and made friends with Thomas Hardy, then living at Max Gate in Dorchester. In 1925 Lawrence rejoined the RAF, most notably spending time at Plymouth, where he helped develop and test the speedboats that formed a fledgling air-sea rescue service. In 1935 he retired to Clouds Hill. However, on 13 May of that year he went out to send a telegram. Returning quickly on his Brough Superior SS-100, he swerved to avoid two cyclists and was thrown from the motorbike. He died five days later without regaining consciousness, but his legend is still very much alive.

While you're there

The Tank Museum at nearby Bovington has one of world's largest collections of armoured fighting vehicles, with exhibits from 25 countries - and you don't have to be a tank fanatic to enjoy it. The Royal Artillery, the Infantry and the Royal Armoured Corps all train their drivers on the £6 million all-weather circuit beside Clouds Hill.

Where to eat and drink

The old diamond-windowed schoolhouse in Moreton now houses the Moreton Tearooms They're open at lunchtime for tasty, home-made wholefood (such as spinach in filo pastry), as well as fresh sandwiches, ice creams and cold drinks.

What to look for

Don't miss the breathtaking windows in Moreton church. The church itself was rebuilt after severe bomb damage in 1940. What, from the outside, looks like plain glass, from the inside is revealed engraved with a vivid flow of delicate pictorial designs. The etching is the work of Lawrence Whistler, whose first commission in 1955 led to a lifelong association with the church.

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